The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 11, 1997 and was released on October 10, 1997, and garnered critical acclaim. It was also nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Original Screenplay for Anderson, Best Supporting Actress for Moore and Best Supporting Actor for Reynolds. The film's soundtrack also received acclaim.
In 1977, Eddie Adams is a high-school dropout living with his stepfather and emotionally abusive, alcoholic mother in Torrance, California. He works at the Reseda nightclub owned by Maurice Rodriguez, where he meets porn filmmaker Jack Horner, who auditions him by watching him have sex with Rollergirl, a porn starlet who always wears skates. After having an argument with his mother about his girlfriend and sex life, Adams moves in with Horner at his San Fernando Valley home. Adams gives himself the screen name "Dirk Diggler", and becomes a star because of his good looks, youthful charisma, and unusually large penis. His success allows him to buy a new house, an extensive wardrobe, and a "competition orange" 1977 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. With friend and fellow porn star Reed Rothchild, Dirk pitches a series of successful action-themed porn films. Dirk works and socializes with others from the porn industry, and they live carefree lifestyles in the late 1970s disco era. That changes at a New Year's Eve party at Horner's house marking the year 1980, when assistant director Little Bill Thompson discovers his porn-star wife having sex with another man, shoots them both and kills himself.
Dirk and Reed begin using cocaine. Due to Dirk's drug use, he finds it increasingly difficult to achieve an erection, falls into violent mood swings and becomes upset with Johnny Doe, a new leading man Jack has recruited. In 1983, after having an argument with Jack, Dirk is fired, and he and Reed leave to start a rock and roll career along with Scotty, a boom operator who loves Dirk. Jack previously rejected business overtures from Floyd Gondolli, a "theater" magnate in San Diego and San Francisco, who insists on cutting costs by shooting on videotape, because Jack believes that the tapes will diminish the quality of his films. After his friend and financier Colonel James is imprisoned for possessing films depicting child pornography, Jack works with Floyd, becoming disillusioned with the lack of scripts and character development in the projects Gondolli expects him to churn out. One of these projects involves Jack and Rollergirl riding in a limousine, searching for random men for her to have sex with while a crew tapes it. When one man recognizes Rollergirl as a former high-school classmate, he insults her and Jack, who both attack and leave the injured man on the sidewalk as the crew drives away.
Leading lady Amber Waves, who took Dirk under her wing when he joined Jack's stable of actors, finds herself in a custody battle with her ex-husband. The court determines she is an unfit mother, due to her involvement in the porn industry, prior criminal record and cocaine addiction. Buck Swope marries fellow porn star Jessie St. Vincent, who becomes pregnant. Because of his past, Buck is disqualified from a bank loan and cannot open his own stereo-equipment store. That night, he finds himself in the middle of a holdup in which the clerk, the robber and an armed customer are killed. Buck escapes with the money that the robber demanded. Having squandered their money on drugs, Dirk and Reed cannot pay a recording studio for demonstration tapes they believe will enable them to become music stars. Desperate for money, Dirk resorts to prostitution, but is assaulted and robbed by three men. Dirk, Reed and their friend Todd attempt to scam drug dealer Rahad Jackson, by selling him a half-kilo of baking soda as cocaine. Dirk and Reed decide to leave before Rahad's bodyguard inspects it, but Todd fails to steal money from Rahad, who kills him in the ensuing gunfight. Dirk reconciles with Jack.
In 1984, Buck and Jessie give birth to their son, Amber shoots the television commercial for Buck's store opening, Reed practices a successful magic act at the strip club, Colonel James remains in prison, and Rollergirl returns to high school. Dirk and Amber prepare to start filming again.
Boogie Nights is based on a mockumentary short film that Anderson made while he was still in high school called The Dirk Diggler Story. The short was based on the 1981 documentary Exhausted: John C. Holmes, The Real Story, a documentary about the life of legendary porn actor John Holmes, the person on whom Dirk Diggler is based.
He originally wanted the role of Eddie to be played by Leonardo DiCaprio, after seeing him in The Basketball Diaries. DiCaprio enjoyed the screenplay, but had to turn it down because he signed on to star in Titanic. He recommended Mark Wahlberg for the role. Joaquin Phoenix was also offered the role of Eddie, but turned it down due to concerns about playing a porn star. Phoenix later collaborated with Anderson in the films, The Master and Inherent Vice. Bill Murray, Harvey Keitel, Warren Beatty, Albert Brooks, and Sydney Pollack declined or were passed up on the role of Jack Horner, which went to Burt Reynolds. After starring in Hard Eight, Samuel L. Jackson declined the role of Buck Swope, which went to Don Cheadle. Anderson initially did not consider Heather Graham for the role of Rollergirl, because he had never seen her do nudity in a film. However, Graham's agent called Anderson asking if she could read for the part, which she won. Drew Barrymore and Tatum O'Neal were also up for the role.
After having a very difficult time getting his previous film, Hard Eight, released, Anderson laid down a hard law when getting Boogie Nights made. He initially wanted the film to be over three hours long and be rated NC-17. The film's producers, particularly Michael De Luca, said that the film had to be either under three hours or rated R. Anderson fought with them, saying that the film would not have a mainstream appeal no matter what. They did not change their minds, and Anderson chose the R rating as a challenge. Despite this, the film was still 20 minutes shorter than promised.
Reynolds did not get along with Anderson while filming. After seeing a rough cut of the film, Reynolds fired his agent for recommending it. Despite this, Reynolds won a Golden Globe Award and was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance. Later, Anderson considered Reynolds to star in his next film, Magnolia, but Reynolds declined it.
The film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and was shown at the New York Film Festival, before opening on two screens in the U.S. on October 10, 1997. It grossed $50,168 on its opening weekend. Three weeks later, it expanded to 907 theaters and grossed $4,681,934, ranking number four for the week. It eventually earned $26,400,640 in the U.S. and $16,700,954 in foreign markets for a worldwide box office total of $43,101,594.
The film currently has 92% positive reviews on film review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes, with 60 of 65 counted reviews giving it a "fresh" rating and an average rating of 8.1 out of 10. The site's consensus states: "Grounded in strong characters, bold themes, and subtle storytelling, Boogie Nights is a groundbreaking film both for director P.T. Anderson and star Mark Wahlberg." On Metacritic, the film holds an average score of 85 out of 100, based on 28 reviews.
Janet Maslin of The New York Times said, "Everything about Boogie Nights is interestingly unexpected," although "the film's extravagant 2-hour 32-minute length amounts to a slight tactical mistake ... [it] has no trouble holding interest ... but the length promises larger ideas than the film finally delivers." She praised Burt Reynolds for "his best and most suavely funny performance in many years" and added, "The movie's special gift happens to be Mark Wahlberg, who gives a terrifically appealing performance."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times observed, "Few films have been more matter-of-fact, even disenchanted, about sexuality. Adult films are a business here, not a dalliance or a pastime, and one of the charms of Boogie Nights is the way it shows the everyday backstage humdrum life of porno filmmaking ... The sweep and variety of the characters have brought the movie comparisons to Robert Altman's Nashville and The Player. There is also some of the same appeal as Pulp Fiction in scenes that balance precariously between comedy and violence ... Through all the characters and all the action, Anderson's screenplay centers on the human qualities of the players ... Boogie Nights has the quality of many great films, in that it always seems alive."
Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle stated, "Boogie Nights is the first great film about the 1970s to come out since the '70s ... It gets all the details right, nailing down the styles and the music. More impressive, it captures the decade's distinct, decadent glamour ... [It] also succeeds at something very difficult: re-creating the ethos and mentality of an era ... Paul Thomas Anderson ... has pulled off a wonderful, sprawling, sophisticated film ... With Boogie Nights, we know we're not just watching episodes from disparate lives but a panorama of recent social history, rendered in bold, exuberant colors."
Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times called it "a startling film, but not for the obvious reasons. Yes, its decision to focus on the pornography business in the San Fernando Valley in the 1970s and 1980s is nerviness itself, but more impressive is the film's sureness of touch, its ability to be empathetic, nonjudgmental and gently satirical, to understand what is going on beneath the surface of this raunchy Nashville-esque universe and to deftly relate it to our own ... Perhaps the most exciting thing about Boogie Nights is the ease with which writer-director Anderson ... spins out this complex web. A true storyteller, able to easily mix and match moods in a playful and audacious manner, he is a filmmaker definitely worth watching, both now and in the future."
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone said, "[T]his chunk of movie dynamite is detonated by Mark Wahlberg ... who grabs a breakout role and runs with it ... Even when Boogie Nights flies off course as it tracks its bizarrely idealistic characters into the '80s ... you can sense the passionate commitment at the core of this hilarious and harrowing spectacle. For this, credit Paul Thomas Anderson ... who ... scores a personal triumph by finding glints of rude life in the ashes that remained after Watergate. For all the unbridled sex, what is significant, timely and, finally, hopeful about Boogie Nights is the way Anderson proves that a movie can be mercilessly honest and mercifully humane at the same time."
Two Boogie Nights soundtracks were released, the first at the time of the film's initial release and the second the following year. AllMusic rated the first soundtrack four and a half stars out of five and the second soundtrack four.Personnel
Paul Thomas Anderson – executive producer
Karyn Rachtman – executive producer, music supervisor
Liz Heller – executive producer
Bobby Lavelle – music supervisor
Carol Dunn – music coordinator
- "Intro (Feel the Heat)" (John C. Reilly and Mark Wahlberg) – 1:11
- "Best of My Love" (The Emotions) – 3:39
- "Jungle Fever" (The Chakachas) – 4:20
- "Brand New Key" (Melanie) – 2:23
- "Spill the Wine" (Eric Burdon and War) – 4:02
- "Got to Give It Up (Part 1)" (Marvin Gaye) – 4:07
- "Machine Gun" (The Commodores) – 2:38
- "Magnet and Steel" (Walter Egan) – 3:23
- "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" (McFadden & Whitehead) – 3:40
- "Sister Christian" (Night Ranger) – 5:00
- "Livin' Thing" (Electric Light Orchestra) – 3:30
- "God Only Knows" (The Beach Boys) – 2:48
- "The Big Top"(Michael Penn & Patrick Warren) – 9:58
- "The Touch" (Mark Wahlberg)
- "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)" (Three Dog Night) – 3:16
- "Fooled Around and Fell in Love" (Elvin Bishop) – 4:34
- "You Sexy Thing" (Hot Chocolate) – 4:02
- "Boogie Shoes" (K.C. & The Sunshine Band) – 2:09
- "Do Your Thing" (Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band – 3:29
- "Driver's Seat" (Sniff 'n' the Tears) – 4:00
- "Feel Too Good" (The Move) – 9:30
- "Jessie's Girl" (Rick Springfield) – 3:13
- "J.P. Walk" (Sound Experience) – 7:05
- "I Want to Be Free" (Ohio Players) – 6:50
- "Joy" (Apollo 100) – 2:45
The film received box office success with Reynolds' depiction of Jack Horner garnering him twelve awards and three nominations, and Moore's depiction of Amber Waves garnering her six awards and nominations.